This is a course on Christian leadership. It is for anyone who leads or aspires to lead in the Christian community. It is especially relevant to pastors, elders, and deacons. But most of it is also applicable to Sunday school teachers, ministry staff, and indeed anyone who has any leadership role in serving Christ and His people.
I have designed it so that it will be especially useful for pastors in training present and future elders and deacons, and also for mentoring young men who sense a call to Christian service.
I. A Summary of Christian Leadership
Question: What is Christian leadership?
Warren Benson and Burt Nannis discovered 850 definitions of leadership when researching The Leader’s Strategies for Taking Charge.
Although we won’t find quite as many definitions of Christian leadership, they probably still run into the hundreds. I like Joel Beeke’s definition: “Spiritual leadership is moving people by biblical means, in dependency upon the Holy Spirit, to do God’s will.”
Here’s my own: “A Christian leader serves God and His people by exemplifying godly character and conduct; by communicating God’s Word to everyone with wisdom and love; by excelling in vocational responsibilities; by uniting, equipping and inspiring God’s people for worship and works of service; and by preparing them for eternal life, all in dependence upon God.”
It’s a bit of a mouthful and probably still doesn’t cover all the bases. Let me expound it a little:
1. He serves God and His people
The Christian leader sees himself primarily as a servant not a ruler. And, like Jesus, he is a servant of God first, then of His people. He empowers people rather than overpowers them.
Some people object to the whole idea of leadership in the church and say it is a worldly category. But the Bible uses that language to describe activity in the church (Lk. 22:26; Heb. 13:7, 17). The problem is not so much with leadership but with sinful leadership. Christian leadership is to be a contrast to worldly leadership (Luke 20:26). It may sound more spiritual to use other terms and categories for pastoral roles, but we end up losing biblical concepts and language.
2. He exemplifies godly character and conduct
The internal life comes first. Without a Christ-like core, everything else will eventually decay and rot. But inner character does produce external conduct. A Christ-like character and Christ-like conduct are the most powerful and yet often most neglected elements of spiritual leadership.
3. He communicates God’s Word
A Christian leader reads and study God’s Word in order to communicate it wisely and lovingly to Christian and non-Christian alike, as opportunity arises. As he wants people to know and obey God’s will, not his own, he wants to make sure that every word he speaks is consistent with God’s Word.
4. He excels in vocational responsibilities
He does not over-spiritualize leadership by thinking that prayer and Bible study will cover a multitude of incompetencies and inefficiencies in everyday life. He recognizes his duty to be organized, to be efficient, to keep appointments, to prepare for meetings, to inspire trust and respect by wise financial stewardship, etc.
5. He unites, equips, and inspires God’s people for worship
He unites God’s people in thoughtful, orderly, reverent and Word-centered worship. But He also leads and directs worship so that it reaches and inspires the heart and the emotions. Like the Father, he wants worship to be full of Holy Truth and Holy Spirit (John 4:23-24)
6. He unites, equips and inspires God’s people for works of service
While prioritizing worship, he also teaches, trains, organizes, and enables God’s people to serve Him, His Church, and His World as their talents and opportunities allow.
Notice the emphasis on unity in these last two points. The Christian leader loves to bring people together and create united teamwork.
7. He prepares God’s people for eternal life
Eternity is ever before the Christian leader. However busy his life or his church’s life, however much he and God’s people serve here below, the spiritual leader is ever mindful that all this is all-too short preparation for the long world to come.
8. All in dependence upon God
Supermodels are super-paid because they are super-effective at making people copy them. Fashion and design gurus know that the way to sell their clothes is to get them on Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Giselle or whoever the latest coat-hanger is. Young (and not-so-young) people see the clothes on the model and say, “I want to be/look like that!”
So how would you like to be a Supermodel? Well, if you’re a Christian leader, you already are. Your life, character, and conversation, are super-influential upon those you lead and serve.
But that raises the question as to whether we are modeling for good or for evil. Just as many have followed Kate Moss into drug abuse, and Naomi Campbell into prima donna mood-swings, likewise many people have suffered by copying the bad examples of their pastors. So let me pose some questions:
- Are you demonstrating the need for a weekly Sabbath rest from work? (Or does “six days you shall labor” only apply to non-pastors?)
- Are you treating your body as a Temple of the Holy Spirit?
- Are you drawing wise boundaries in your relationships with other women in the congregation?
- Are you taking reasonable vacations and really vacating the office – leaving it behind mentally as well as physically?
- Are you exercising wise time-management?
- Are you setting reasonable working, resting, and sleeping hours?
- Are you modeling a godly family by spending quality and quantity time with your wife and children?
- Are you showing your spiritual need to hear good preaching and to read good books for the good of your own soul?
- Are you guarding personal devotion time as jealously as you guard your children?
To put it bluntly, is the overall message of your life: “I am so indispensable, unstoppable, and incomparable that I don’t need to care for myself.” Or are you communicating: “I am so dependent, so vulnerable, so fragile, so needy that unless I take care of myself and my family first, I won’t be able to take care of anyone else.” Now that’s a Supermodel.
“A Christian leader serves God and His people by exemplifying godly character and conduct; by communicating God’s Word to everyone with wisdom and love; by excelling in vocational responsibilities; by uniting, equipping and inspiring God’s people for worship and works of service; and by preparing them for eternal life, all in dependence upon God.”
I’m sure you can come up with your own definition of Christian leadership. But whatever definition we come up with, surely the more we learn what’s involved in spiritual leadership, the more we cry with the Apostle Paul, “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:16) And thankfully we hear the welcome echo, “But my sufficiency is from God” (2 Cor. 3:5).
II. Separating Christian Leadership
Question: What are the two main leadership roles and what distinguishes them?
While most leadership characteristics and competencies are relevant in every kind of leadership role (e.g. financial stewardship, reliable time-keeping), there are certain special characteristics and competencies for specific leadership roles. It’s important to recognize these so that we and those we serve are placed in appropriate roles.
There are really two main distinctions in church leaders – the distinction between elders and deacons – and it’s vital that everyone recognizes this and that each stays within their own lane.
A. Qualifications, Role & Responsibilities of the Elder
This is primarily a pastoral role and involves mainly teaching the Bible, visiting the flock, and counseling saints and sinners. There should be an especial flair for personal relationships, for building friendships and trust, for speaking a word in season, and for spiritual discernment.
So where does the Pastor come in? He’s really an elder who has a God-given sense of full-time calling to that role and will also have an extra gifting in the area of preaching – which is more than and different to teaching.
B. Qualifications, Role & Responsibilities of the Deacon
This is primarily an administrative role and involves mainly stewarding the church’s financial resources for the glory of God and the good of the sheep.
There are areas of overlap, of course. For example, elders will discover financial needs when visiting. Elders will also have to teach about financial stewardship. Elders will have to set general direction concerning the priorities of expenditure.
Similarly, the deacons’ distribution of funds to the poor is an act of pastoral love and concern. The deacons will have a say in how many pastors or staff the church can realistically employ.
So, clearly there are areas of overlap, which requires communication, consultation, and, ideally joint meetings (e.g. the Consistory), but there must also be clear distinction in the roles.
The two areas that have most potential for conflict are:
(1) Elders trying to micromanage and second-guess the deacons financial decision-making.
(2) Deacons taking the lead and over-influencing decisions that have a more pastoral or spiritual dimension.
Elders and deacons should be continually (if not formally) asking themselves if they are maintaining communication but also distinction in roles and responsibilities.
III. Seeking Christian Leadership
Question: Should I desire Christian leadership?
What would you say to someone who said to you: “I want to be a leader in the church.”
Does that ambition or desire to lead automatically disqualify a person from the ministry?
As J. Oswald Sanders asks: “Is it not better for a position to seek out a person than the person to seek out the position?”
In earlier American history, it was thought improper of anyone to want to be President. If it happened, it happened, but you certainly didn’t seek it.
So what about the ministry? Does the desire to be a pastor or preacher disqualify a person? There have been notable cases, like Calvin’s or Knox’s, when men were virtually forced into church leadership. That’s rare today, although in some limited circles the idea persists that a man is not called to the ministry unless God has more or less forced him into it against his will.
What usually happens today is that a man goes to his pastor or elders, and says something like, “I believe God is calling me into the ministry.” That sounds very passive and humble. The desire and activity is all on God’s side.
But, there is nothing wrong with a man wanting to be a pastor and taking steps to further that desire. Paul said that if any man wants to be an elder, he desires a good work (1 Tim. 3:1). As one Bible version puts it: “To aspire to leadership is an honorable ambition.” The potential problems do not lie in the desire or aspiration itself, but with the strength and nature of the desire. The desire should be powerful and pure.
1. Powerful desire
When a man tells me he feels he is being called to the ministry or eldership, I want to test the strength of that desire with questions such as: “How strong is it? How much do you want it? What difficulty would stop you? How would you respond if your pastor or elders said “No”?
There should be very clear and definite answers to these questions. If a man does not want to be an elder or a pastor then he’s not called to that office. If a man does not have a strong desire to be a pastor, he might just about get through his Seminary studies, but he won’t last long in pastoral ministry.
Some might say, “I don’t want to be a leader. I just want to preach the Gospel and teach God’s people.” However, even teaching and preaching involve leadership” (1 Tim. 2:12). If you don’t want to lead God’s people, you’re not called to lead.
2. Pure desire
Once a strong desire is established, then the motive behind the desire should be examined. While Paul commended the desire to lead, Jeremiah said that if anyone seeks great things for himself, he should stop right there (Jer. 45:5). Diotrephes, who loved the preeminence, was a classic example of what Jeremiah warned against (3 John 9-10). Church History is littered with the corpses of those who had strong but unholy desires to lead – and of those they tried to lead.
Maybe Jeremiah’s words are more relevant to Americans than Paul’s. When Paul was encouraging and praising men who wanted to be church leaders, he and they both knew that such positions guaranteed persecution, financial hardship, and a lifetime of stress. In that context, the desire to be a church leader was good and honorable – and rare.
But when there are significant rewards associated with being a church leader, as there are in many American settings, then sinful ambitions and selfish motives are going to be much more common.
So, if some desires for church leadership are good and holy, while others are sinful and selfish, how do we distinguish them? Well obviously anyone with a bit of savvy can say the right words to please a questioner. No question on earth will guarantee the exposure of real motives if someone is determined to disguise them. All we can really do is ask the man to prayerfully examine his own motives over a period of time. Perhaps provide him with a list like this and ask him if he finds his desires in the God-glorifying column, or in the self-glorifying column.
a. God-glorifying desires
- I want to exalt God by my life and my lips
- I want to serve God and His people
- I want to see sinners saved and Christians equipped for works of service.
- I want to teach people about the Bible and lead them in worship
- I want to prepare people for eternity
- I want to see the Church reformed and strengthened
- I want to see the Church make an impact on my community, country, culture
b. Self-glorifying desires
- I want to be famous
- I want to be rich
- I want to be powerful and influential
- I want to be respected and recognized
- I want to serve on important Committees and Boards
- I want to be more fulfilled in my life
- I want more time at home with my wife and kids
- I’m getting on in life and fancy an easier job
- I’m not happy in my present work, and thought I should try ministry
- I want to make up for the wrong I’ve done in my life
- I want to be the next Tim Keller, John Piper, Joel Beeke, etc
- I want to make something of myself
- I want to control others’ lives
- I want to be wanted
- I want to be free of a boss
- I want to read and study
- I want a title
- I want to work where I don’t have to listen to cursing and swearing all day.
You’d be amazed at how many of these self-centered motives I’ve actually heard expressed!
May God give His servants powerful and pure desires!
IV. Sources of Christian Leadership
Question: Where can I learn about Christian Leadership?
The obvious answer is the Bible, and we’ll look further at that below. But, can pastors and other church leaders learn anything about leadership from President Obama? From President George Bush? From Bill Gates? From General Petraeus? From Chip Kelly?
That’s one of the questions I’d like to answer as we look at the three main resources God has provided to teach us about Christian leadership: His precepts, His patterns, and His providence.
1. God’s Precepts
God’s Word is obviously the primary and foundational source of teaching on Christian leadership. The Bible tells us that there are two fundamentals for a Christian leader – spiritual life and moral life. Before anyone can become a Christian leader, they must first become a Christian; they must be born again (John 3:3,10). There can be no spiritual leadership without spiritual life.
But spiritual life is not enough; there must also be a moral life. As Christian leaders lead first and foremost by moral example, God’s moral law – the Ten Commandments as further explicated in the New Testament – must shape their moral character.
Moreover, a Christian leader must go beyond having spiritual life and a holy life; these are but the basics of every Christian’s life. There are further leader-specific precepts and commands in both the Old Testament (e.g. Josh. 1:7) and in the New (e.g. 1 Tim. 3:2; 2 Tim. 2:24).
2. God’s Patterns
In addition to His commands and instructions, God also provides us with models, or metaphors, of leadership: the servant, the shepherd, the captain, the father, the steward, etc.
God also makes these leadership models come alive in the lives of biblical characters, who are frequently set forth as exemplary leaders with unique leadership qualities: Joseph (long-range planning), Moses (meekness), Jethro (delegation), David (team-building), Daniel (courage), the Apostles (pioneering), etc. And of course, the ultimate model, Jesus Christ, combines every leadership quality in perfect proportion and balance.
God’s models are also found in the pages of Church History (e.g. C H Spurgeon, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Robert Dabney, Charles Hodge, William Wilberforce, etc.) There are also Christian leaders in our own day that the Lord has raised up, whose faith we are to follow (Heb. 13:7). Some of them may be internationally known. Others may be simply the pastors and elders whom the Lord has brought into our lives at various points.
3. God’s Providence
In His gracious providence, God has given leadership gifts to many outside the Church. They may be Christians or non-Christians, and they may be found in various fields: political, military, sports, business, etc. May we learn from such leaders in some or all of these fields, or not at all? And if so, what safeguards and cautions do we need to put in place to avoid contaminating the church with unbiblical practices?
There are some Christians who say. “No, we may not learn anything about leadership outside the Bible.”
I can understand this instinct. Too often the church has become far too much like a corporation, the pastor has become too much like a CEO, worship has become too much like a concert, preaching has become too much like a stand-up comedy, and evangelism has become too much like a marketing campaign. However, these abuses and perversions should not stop us learning even from unbelievers in certain areas and with certain safeguards in place.
I’d like to defend the idea of learning from non-biblical (I did not say unbiblical) sources and then consider a couple of safeguards.
(i) First, by way of defense, in addition to God’s saving grace, the Reformed Church has usually acknowledged God’s common grace whereby He distributes gifts and abilities to non-Christians for the benefit of His Church and people.
John Calvin used the illustration of spectacles to explain this. He said that the Bible is not only what we read, but what we read with. We use its pages as spectacles to view and read the world and the knowledge, the light of nature, God has distributed throughout it (Inst. 1.6.1).
The human mind, however much fallen and perverted from its original integrity, is still adorned and invested with admirable gifts from its Creator. . . . We will be careful. . . not to reject or condemn truth wherever it appears. (Inst. 2.2.15)
If we regard the Spirit of God as the sole foundation of truth, we shall neither reject the truth itself, nor despise it wherever it shall appear, unless we wish to dishonor the Spirit of God. Shall we say that the philosophers were blind in their fine observation and artful description of nature? . . . No, we cannot read the writings of the ancients on these subjects without great admiration. But if the Lord has willed that we be helped in physics, dialectic, mathematics, and other like disciplines, by the work and ministry of the ungodly, let us use this assistance. For if we neglect God’s gift freely offered in these arts, we ought to suffer just punishment for our sloths (Inst. 2.2.15-16)
(ii) Second, in His Word, God has given us sufficient general principles to work out and apply in every single specific situation. And sometimes we fill out the detail of the biblical principle by learning from non-biblical sources. John Piper put it like this:
To be obedient in the sciences we need to read science and study nature. To be obedient in economics we need to read economics and observe the world of business. To be obedient in sports we need to know the rules of the game. To be obedient in marriage we need to know the personality of our spouse. To be obedient as a pilot we need to know how to fly a plane.[footnote]John Piper, “Thoughts On The Sufficiency of Scripture,” DesiringGod.org, accessed 5.28.14, http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/thoughts-on-the-sufficiency-of-scripture[/footnote]
The sufficiency of Scripture means we don’t need any more special revelation. We don’t need any more inspired, inerrant words. In the Bible God has given us, we have the perfect standard for judging all other knowledge. All other knowledge stands under the judgment of the Bible.
(iii) Third, there are over 20 models of leadership in the Bible; and they have all been brought in or borrowed from the “world” (the servant, the shepherd, the captain, the father, the steward, etc.) The model was first in the world (by God’s providence of course) and then used by God to teach His Church (e.g. shepherd, watchman, rabbi, captain, steward, father, mother, judge, builder, etc.). Not one of these models gives a complete picture of the pastor’s role. However, each one sheds significant light on one aspect of it. To understand our leadership role better, we need to understand these other roles better.
(iv) Fourth, some of the words used for Christian leaders are taken from non-Christian activities.
- oikonomia is a noun meaning administration of a household or an office; management of a state or house (e.g. Lk. 16:1-17; 1 Cor. 4:2; Tit. 1:7; 1 Pet. 4:10)
- kybernesis is borrowed from sailing, and referred to the helmsman or pilot that guides the vessel to its destination (e.g. Acts 27:11; 1 Corinthians 12:28; Revelation 18:17)
- episkopos is usually translated “overseer” and originally described a man charged with responsibility of seeing that things done by others are done right (Titus 1:7)
- proistemi in classical Greek referred to leadership in an army, state or party. It developed a range of meanings including guard, care, be at the head of, have charge over, preside over, lead, represent, sponsor, etc. (Romans 12:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:12 ; 1 Timothy 3:4,12; 5:17; Titus 3:8, 3:14).
What safeguards can we put in place to learn from God’s gracious distribution of truth and gifts outside the church, without “bringing the world into the church.”
(i) Biblical precepts and patterns are non-negotiable. If any leadership principle or practice is contrary to the Bible, then it must be rejected. The authority of Scripture stands above everything.
(ii) Biblical precepts and patterns must be studied most. While we may learn from non-biblical sources, if we are reading The Harvard Business Review and Business Bestsellers more than the Bible, we are in grave danger of drifting from biblical moorings.
(iii) Biblical precepts and patterns should control the big picture. If we keep the bible’s principles and practice as our overarching control, we can fill in some of the details from non-biblical sources. Here are some examples:
- The Bible gives us the general principle of time management (Eph. 5:16), but it does not give us much detail about how to do this. We may fill out the details of this general principle by looking at the methods successful people in other fields have used to manage their time.
- The Bible tells us that we are to be careful listeners, but again does not give us too many details about the “How to.” We can learn a lot from those who have studied the details of listening skills.
- The Bible tells us we are to be shepherds, but we fill out the details of what that means by studying the character and conduct of ancient and modern shepherds.
- The Bible tells us we are to teach God’s Word, but we can learn to be more effective teachers from specialists in the field of education.
With these three safeguards in place, we can prayerfully “plunder the Egyptians” for the good of Israel.
V. The Secret of Christian Leadership
Question: What’s the most important characteristic of a Christian leader?
The Christian leader has to juggle numerous balls while innumerable forces seem to pull him in every direction. On top of that, the Bible presents at least 20 biblical models of leadership. Twenty! You mean I have to be twenty things at one time?!
Not exactly. Sometimes the situation is simple and demands a single model of leadership. More commonly, depending on the situation, the Christian leader has to combine different elements and proportions of the Bible’s leadership models. And here is where so many go so wrong. It is so easy to become imbalanced.[footnote]See David Crabb, “Bible Balance in Christian Ministry, DesiringGod.org, accessed 5.28.14, http://www.desiringgod.org//blog/posts/bible-balance-in-christian-ministry[/footnote]
1. Temperament imbalances us
Temperaments or characteristics, per se, are not sinful. God has wisely given different leaders different characters for different times and different purposes.
However, our temperaments or personalities do tend to imbalance us. Men with confident, forceful personalities are going to be more attracted to the authoritative Captain model; men with gentler, more compassionate natures are going to be more like the caring nursing Mother (1 Thess. 2:7). Men who enjoy debates, will love the Reformer model; those who hate controversy will default to the Peacemaker model. Men with speaking skills, will tend to speak more than listen; men who listen well, will listen more than speak.
While we have to work on our weaknesses, we also have to beware lest the strengths God has given us become our weaknesses.
2. Sin imbalances us
Sin has weakened every faculty, every sense, and every aspect of our gifts and abilities. Take our thinking abilities, which enter into every aspect of leadership. Every thought we have passes through our brain. Everything we see, hear, smell, taste, touch, passes through our brain as a thought, using a phenomenally complicated combination of electrical impulses and chemical reactions. Brain surgeon Ludvic Zrinzo said: “The brain is the final frontier. If you look at the number of neurons, synapses and connections, these vastly outnumber the stars in our galaxy, and we won’t understand all the complexities for many generations to come.” Stanford researchers have found that, “A single human brain has more switches than all the computers and routers and Internet connections on Earth.”
But like the rest of our bodies, our brain is fallen; the chemistry and electrics are faulty. That means that even if we lived in a perfect world, our perceptions and thoughts about it are going to be imperfect.
That also means that even if we had perfect hearts with perfect desires and motives, these desires and motives are often going to be obstructed, misdirected, frustrated, or weakened by having to pass through our misfiring and imbalanced brains. In other words, whether it is an incoming perception or an outgoing thought or desire, they are going to be “damaged” to one degree or other by passing through our brain.
But of course we do not live in a perfect world, and we do not have perfect hearts either. On top of a fallen and faulty brain, we have to contend with our fallen and faulty hearts and environments. What a toxic mix! When we have sin coming at us from within and without, and all being processed by a sin-cursed brain, all these negative forces combine to make it very easy to unbalance and fall off the leadership tightrope.
3. Role models imbalance us
We are all thankful for the powerful impact of godly men and women in our lives. God has given us pastors, elders, teachers who have modeled godly leadership for us. We cannot help but consciously, or unconsciously, imitate these people. However, strangely, we often tend to imitate their quirks, eccentricities, and idiosyncrasies, rather than their strengths and qualities. And even the best models were best for their time and situation. Their kind of leadership may not be suitable for us, or our time, or our situation.
The secret of Christian leadership is having the spiritual wisdom to know the balance of leadership characteristics required for each situation you are dealing with. Knowing your temperament, knowing your sin, and knowing how role models have influenced you will help you to prayerfully seek God’s wisdom to know what kind of leader you should be.
Of course, this means, that sometimes the Christian leader is changing his approach multiple times in a day. In the one situation he has to be a courageous captain, in another a far-sighted visionary, in another a team builder, etc. And sometimes when being a team builder he has to act as part-peacemaker, part-administrator, part-judge, etc.
Our ability to choose the right model for each situation, or the right models in the right proportions, will make or break our ministries and our congregations. It is that significant. If what’s called for is a listening ear, and all we do is talk; or if we choose peacemaking instead of fighting when facing false doctrine, then we have failed ourselves, our congregations, and God Himself.
Let me give you some examples of imbalanced models of Christian leadership and the kid of people that result from it:
Mr. Passive never takes a step forwards. Like a snooker ball, he just waits to be hit by the next event. If he can maintain the status quo or manage a congregation’s gradual decline, he’s quite happy.
If Mr. Passive is a snooker ball, Mr. Dictator is the snooker cue. He’s always pushing his way around, pushing others out of his way, and aggressively pushing his own agenda with little thought about the knock-on effects for others. Sometimes he pushes so hard that he rips the cloth and ends the game for himself and everyone else too.
Mr. Crisis is neither too passive nor too aggressive. He doesn’t try to avoid difficulties like Mr. Passive and he doesn’t create difficulties like Mr. Dictator. But he loves difficulties when they come. Not so active in normal times, he thrives in a crisis, especially when the spotlight is on him. He’ll lead through the Red Sea, but he’s not so keen on the wilderness bit.
Mr. Inconsistent can clear the table sometimes and hardly hit a ball at other times. You just don’t know what to expect on any given Sunday. He’s up, and then he’s down. Sometimes his sermons soar, and sometimes they sink. Happy and encouraged one day, miserable and depressed the next. Determined to stay for the rest of his life, threatening to resign the next day. Completely unpredictable and unreliable.
Every leader has fears – he’d be foolish not to – but Mr. Fearful is characterized by fear, overwhelmed with fear, never gets past fear, is dominated by fear, and makes decisions based on fear. But, just like the animals, his people can smell his fear, especially in his preaching. Most have stopped following him, and some have started intimidating him.
When people think of Mr. Pessimist, a little passport picture of him pops out of their mental files and displays a glum sad, hopeless, and depressed expression. A dark cloud hovers above him and rains whenever there’s a hint of sunlight in his life or ministry. Growth in other churches is suspect. A cheerful Christian is a shallow Christian. Sin and judgment are his themes and shall be till he dies – which always seems to be just round the corner.
Mr. Boastful knows how to make other preachers feel really bad, and seems to enjoy doing so. He’s an expert with statistics and always seems to have his latest church attendance, Sunday school figures, baptisms, conference invites, etc., at the tip of his fingers. When people visit his church, it never seems to be quite as big or as lively as he claims, but then you can’t lie with the stats, can you?
Mr. Academic has read every book you’ve every read and twice as much again. He can quote early church fathers, reformers, puritans, and modern church leaders as if he knew then all personally. Calls himself a “Pastor-scholar” but there’s little of the former and much more of the latter. Argues that the best way to pastor his flock is to spend 40 hours on each sermon. The sheep just don’t know how lucky they are.
You’ve probably already met Mr. Sociable. Everyone else has. He loves socializing and plans a lot of it every week: lots of visits for lots of hours. And he especially welcomes unplanned visitors and calls. People are far more important that studying the passage in Greek or simplifying that complex paragraph towards the end of the sermon. He’s greatly loved in the community, but those who have to listen to him every week are growing less enamored.
Paper, emails, reports, committees, church law, and bureaucratic procedures are Mr. Administrator’s favorite companions. Given the choice between ministry and administration, the latter always seems more urgent, if not important. I mean people can wait, but this report is due next week. Rather than squeezing in paperwork between sermons and visitation, sermon prep and pastoral visitation are squeezed into ever-smaller gaps between the vital office work.
As a Pastor myself, I recognize all of these people almost every time I look in the mirror. Yes, I have been all of these people at one time or other, and sometimes all in the one day!
Yet, for all of our faults, the Lord still uses “earthen vessels,” that the treasure of His grace might shine all the more beautifully in us and through us (2 Corinthians 2:7).
At the end of every day I bring my multiple sinful personalities to the cross and appeal once again for forgiveness, looking to the Christ who died for my sins, and for the sins of every Christian pastor. The more I preach and pastor people, the more I value Jesus’s atoning work, and the more I marvel at His perfect life and ministry over 33 years.
In the light of all this are we not thankful for the promise: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5). God alone is able to balance out all our imbalances and keep us on the leadership tightrope.
VI. The Satisfaction of Christian Leadership
Question: What are the rewards of Christian leadership?
I’ve been emphasizing the difficulties of leadership. And this course shall continue to highlight these difficulties. However, I don’t want to end this introductory lecture on a depressing note. I want to close by emphasizing the satisfaction of leadership.
I want to do this because there’s a “Ministry Misery” writing genre that’s proving strangely popular in some circles.
Pastors try to outdo one another in painting ministry in general, and themselves in particular, in as dismal and depressing a light as they possibly can. There are usually two recurring memes:
- Ministers are more evil than you can possibly imagine. I’m more hypocritical, more devious, and more selfish than Hitler, Saddam, and Osama put together. To prove it let me tell you about how bad a father, a husband, and a pastor I am. Again and again and again.
- The ministry is more evil than you can possibly imagine. You’ve no idea how hard it is to be a pastor. So much suffering, so much persecution, so much giving, and all for so little return.
Misery, misery, misery. Sometimes it appears that the worse they describe themselves and their work, the more popular the articles seem to be. Lots of other pastors chime in with “I’m even worse than that…and so’s my congregation.”
Is this some kind of perverse Reformed monkishness that enjoys very public and painful self-flaggelation? Is there something especially holy and admirable about this activity?
I know there’s a danger of pride in ministers, and we need to strip away the illusions of pastoral glamor lest naive young men are attracted to it for the wrong reasons, but come on guys, we’re not totally evil and neither is our work. People are not lying when they say, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace” (Rom. 10:15)?
We are ambassadors for Christ with a high and noble calling. While every job has its thorns and thistles, there’s huge satisfaction and pleasure too. Usually there are far more positives than negatives. Can there be anything more enjoyable than preaching the Gospel, evangelizing the lost, pastoring needy sinners, equipping saints for works of service, and helping saints on their way to glory?
Let’s get a better balance in our view of God’s work in us, through us, and around us. And let’s have more focus on Pastoral Pleasures and less on Ministry Miseries.
Without ignoring the real difficulties, let’s also remember the joys of pastoral ministry. Here are seven I try to keep before me, especially on Monday mornings.
1. Preparing Joys
Every time I enter my study I think, “What a privilege!” Many are stuck on frustrating freeways or down dangerous mines; others are at monotonous conveyor belts or life-threatening fires; still others work in the midst of cursing and swearing. Yet, here am I looking forward to my Bible, good books, and quiet hours spent in the study of God and His grace. I never enter my study without turning to God and saying, “Thank you. I do not deserve this.”
2. Preaching Joys
Preaching can be frustrating and even frightening. But it can also be so enjoyable and even exciting. How many times we see God work as we speak His Word. We see souls being sobered, saints being encouraged, the sad being uplifted, seekers becoming finders, and sinners becoming servants. Sometimes we sense unique and (humanly) inexplicable help when expounding a difficult passage, or making a pointed application. “Where did that come from?” we sometimes wonder. It is the Lord.
3. Pastoring Joys
I love my study. Sometimes, I love it too much. Books are far less complicated than people. In my last congregation, I tried to visit every home or family once a year. That worked out about 3-4 visits a week. The sick, the elderly, and the bereaved added another 3-4 a week. Problems and counseling added maybe another 1-2 a week. So probably ten visits a week on average. That meant two afternoons and two evenings a week. If it was Florida, that would be easy. However, it was the Outer Hebrides: often raining, cold, wet and windy (and that was the summer). I have to admit, it sometimes took my wife to say, “Come on David, get out of the study and get visiting!” And though I sometimes went reluctantly, I almost always returned home encouraged and uplifted by the fellowship with God’s people, and from hearing what God was doing in their lives with His Word.
4. People Joys
Yes, there are challenges, disappointments, and failures, but it is also very rewarding to see God’s people grow, develop and mature; to be privileged to counsel and advise those facing problems; to see decisions vindicated; to see team spirit develop and unite people; to see dormant gifts being deployed for the benefit of the church, etc.
We do not serve God’s people in order to be praised by them. However, it is extremely rewarding when fellow Christians express gratitude for your guidance or leadership. To sense the growing love of God’s people in their prayers or in their gifts is just so encouraging.
I believe part of the reward of heaven will be to see the impact that our lives and ministries make on God’s people, though at the time neither they nor we may have recognized it.
5. Provision Joys
No one enters pastoral ministry for money. In fact, there will be times when you are really tight financially, and you will wonder how you can get by. However, God will always supply your needs. He moves His people in remarkable ways to give exactly what you need. And even when you don’t “need” it, God’s people will often express their gratitude by loving gifts. How many times I came home from visiting in rural areas with fresh eggs, joints of lamb, wild salmon, etc. You can taste the love of God’s people in a special way in these special meals.
6. “Professional” Joys
No, “we are not professionals,” but we are in a profession, “a vocation based upon specialized education.” And what great colleagues we have in this vocation! Twenty years ago, I worked in the financial services industry. It was cut-throat competitive. Now it’s my joy to have godly pastors and missionaries as my colleagues and co-laborers. Since coming to the USA I’ve been privileged to attend The Gospel Coalition Conference and the Desiring God Conference for Pastors. What a contrast to the financial conferences I used to attend! Of course, there are differences and disagreements between us, but our shared love of Christ and His grace is more powerful than what divides us.
7. Personal Joys
One of the greatest joys I had as a Pastor was to hear my wife and children being prayed for at every weekly prayer meeting. And I believe that was a reflection of the private prayers of my congregation. Yes, pastors and their families are special targets for Satan, but they are also given a special place in the Church’s prayers.
Pastors have to work long hours. However, it is often forgotten how much time they have with their wives and children. To have coffee-breaks with your wife, and often three mealtimes a day with your small children, what other calling will allow you to enjoy that!
8. Perpetual Joys
No, we don’t want to be leaders because of the rewards in this life or the next. However, God does encourage his servants with wonderful promises of eternal reward (Matt. 25:23).
Pastoral joys will last forever. Christ’s good and faithful servants will enter into the joy of their Lord (Matt. 25:21). “They that be wise, shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever” (Dan. 12:3).